MUTINY IN THE MILITARY

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Mutiny is an offence that is not as common as other everyday offences because even when there are cases of mutiny, they are not as publicized. Mutiny is a criminal conspiracy among a group of people (typically members of the military; or the crew of any ship, even if they are civilians) to openly oppose, change or overthrow a lawful authority to which they are subject. The term is commonly used for a rebellion among members of the military against their superior officer(s), but can also occasionally refer to any type of rebellion against an authority. A simple definition of mutiny by Merriam Webster Dictionary describes it as a situation in which a group of people (such as sailors or soldiers) refuse to obey orders and try to take control away from the person commanding them. An in depth definition of the word is also presented in the book, Military Law and Precedents (Vol. 2) as unlawful opposition or resistance to, or defiance of superior military authority with a deliberate purpose to usurp, subvert or override the same or eject lawful authority from office.

Until 1689, mutiny was regulated in the United Kingdom by Articles of War instituted by the monarch and effective only in a period of war. In 1689, the first Mutiny Act was passed, passing the responsibility to enforce discipline within the military to Parliament. The Mutiny Act, altered in 1803 and the Articles of War defined the nature and punishment of mutiny, until the latter were replaced by the Army Discipline and Regulation Act in 1879. This, in turn, was replaced by the Army Act in 1881. Today the UK Army Act 1955 defines mutiny as follows:

Mutiny means a combination between two or more persons subject to service law, or between persons two at least of whom are subject to service law –

(a) to overthrow or resist lawful authority in Her Majesty’s forces or any forces co-operating therewith or in any part of any of the said forces,

(b) to disobey such authority in such circumstances as to make the disobedience subversive of discipline, or with the object of avoiding any duty or service against, or in connection with operations against, the enemy, or

(c) to impede the performance of any duty or service in Her Majesty’s forces or in any forces co-operating therewith or in any part of any of the said forces.

(See US Army Act (1955) c.18 – Part II Discipline and Trial and Punishment of Military Offences: Mutiny and insubordination).

U.S. military law requires obedience only to lawful orders. Disobedience to unlawful orders is the obligation of every member of the U.S. military, a principle established by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials following World War II and reaffirmed in the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. However, a U.S. soldier who disobeys an order after deeming it unlawful will almost certainly be court-martialed to determine whether the disobedience was proper. In addition, simple refusal to obey is not mutiny, which requires collaboration or conspiracy to disobedience.

On 9th October 2014 in Nigeria, it was reported by Ibrahim Usman in the Leadership Newspaper that Twelve Nigerian soldiers, all in their 20s and ranged in rank from private to corporal, drafted to fight the Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri were on September 8, 2014 sentenced to death by firing squad for alleged mutiny and attempted murder of their commanding officer. There were series of revolts from the Nigerian soldiers during the period. A troop of ill equipped soldiers were ordered to drive at night on a road frequently attacked by the Boko Haram insurgents. The soldiers initially refused, on the firm belief that it was a suicide mission. But they eventually followed orders and were ambushed on May 13 by the insurgents on the road from the northeast town of Chibok, where more than 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped a month earlier. Many of the soldiers were killed by the insurgents as a result.

When the bodies of the ambushed soldiers were brought to the barracks in Maiduguri on May 14, the soldiers revolted, throwing stones at their commanding officer, Major General A. Mohammed firing into the air and then shooting at him. Several bullets hit the armor-plated vehicle in which he sought refuge. He was unharmed. The demoralized soldiers told “The Associated Press” and the BBC that they were outgunned by the insurgents, frequently not paid in full, abandoned on the battlefield and left without enough ammunition or food. They decried the endemic corruption in the Nigerian military, where millions of dollars budgeted for the fight against the so called insurgents went into pockets of their superiors.

Section 52 and 53 of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act 2004 prescribes the offence and punishment of mutiny. Section 52 defines mutiny as:

(1) A person subject to service law under this Act who –

(a) takes part in a mutiny involving the use of violence or the threat of the use of violence or having as its object or one of its objects the refusal or avoidance of any duty or service against, or in connection with operations against the enemy, or the impeding of the performance of that duty or service; or

(b) incites any other person subject to service law under this Act to take part in a mutiny, whether actual or intended, is guilty of an offence under this subsection and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to suffer death.

Section 52(2) of the Act further provides that a person subject to service law under this Act who, in a case not falling within subsection (1) of this section, takes part in a mutiny, or incites any person subject to service law to take part in a mutiny, whether actual or intended, is guilty of an offence under this subsection and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to life imprisonment.

The Act in Section 52(3) in addition states that mutiny means a combination between two or more persons subject to service law under this Act or between persons, two at least of whom are subject to service law under this Act.

Section 53 of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act deals with failure to suppress a mutiny. It states in sub-section 1 that a person subject to service law under this Act who, knowing that a mutiny is taking place or is intended, fails to use his utmost endeavor to suppress or prevent it; or fails to report without delay that the mutiny is taking place or is intended, is guilty of an offence under this section.

Section 53(2) further states that a person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) of this section is liable, on conviction by a court-martial if the offence was committed with intent to assist the enemy to life imprisonment or in any other case, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or any less punishment provided by this Act.

The bedrock of the effectiveness of any military is discipline. The importance of discipline cannot be over emphasized in the activities of the armed forces. The lack of discipline will result in a breakdown of law and order in the military. At the root of discipline is submission to lawful and constituted authority. This means that insubordination and refusal to obey lawful authority will lead to the disintegration of any military. This then lies the relevance and importance of the law of mutiny. Mutiny cannot and should not be tolerated or condoned in the Armed Forces. Having said this, it is also important to also note that the military hierarchy and superior officers must endeavor to not only give lawful orders but orders that are moral and would protect the lives of men and women under them. Superior officers should under no circumstances give their rights that would endanger men women under them. A case in point is the Chibok saga mentioned above. This is a case where a commanding officer recklessly and irresponsibly put the lives of his men at risk and in the process lost very dear and valuable men.

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